Monday 8 March 2010

Make-or-break for the TUV

Tomorrow there will be a cross-community vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly on whether to accept the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont. Martin McGuinness is 'confident' the DUP and Sinn Fein will carry the vote, but the UUP are adamant that they might not support the transfer – despite the support of 75% of the people in Northern Ireland, pressure from Hilary Clinton, and the apparent support for the transfer from the UUP's own partners, the English Tories!

The vote in the Assembly will be taken on a cross-community basis. This means that, in order for it to be passed, it must have the support of either;

(a) a majority of the members voting, a majority of the designated Nationalists voting and a majority of the designated Unionists voting; or,
(b) 60 per cent of the members voting, 40 per cent of the designated Nationalists voting and 40 per cent of the designated Unionists voting.
Given that Sinn Féin support is guaranteed, and they hold a majority of the nationalist seats (61%, excluding Gerry McHugh who has left the party), the issue is whether the unionist side can make up the numbers.

In order to pass the vote under (a), if the UUP insist on voting against the transfer, the DUP will need to ensure that 27 of their 36 members vote for the proposal. Excluding the Speaker, the DUP's William Hay (who cannot vote), and including the PUP's Dawn Purvis, means the DUP will need to get at least 26 of their MLAs on board.

Under (b) the task may be a little easier, if the support of the SDLP can be counted on. The SDLP and Sinn Féin together have 43 seats, and 60% of the 108 MLAs is 65. If Dawn Purvis can be counted on, the DUP will have to ensure 21 votes, which would make 40% of the 'unionists voting', and, allied to the nationalists, over 60% of the total members voting.

Ironically, at the time of the Hillsborough Agreement, 21 votes was just about all the Peter Robinson could count on! In its (confidential) discussions before the Hillsborough Agreement, "up to 14 DUP members – including MPs such as Campbell and Dodds – expressed disquiet over the vagueness of that part of the package concerning loyalist concerns over the marching season.". According to Gerry Adams "Peter Robinson brought the outcome of those discussions to his Assembly group and recommended that they accept what he agreed with us. It was put to a vote which he won by 22 to 14."

So tomorrow offers the DUP dissidents – and by extension the TUV – an enormous opportunity. If the dissidents stand together they can combine with the UUP – if they actually do oppose the transfer – and defeat it. This would provide a huge boost to the rejectionist unionist position, and would probably bring Peter Robinson down. It would be a propaganda victory of mythical proportions for Jim Allister, who may then be well placed to don the mantle of true leader of 'traditional unionism'.

However, the UUP may soon put paid to any fantasies that Allister may have by deciding to support the transfer, thus rendering any DUP dissent pointless and counter-productive. There will be many people in the DUP who will be watching the outcome of today's UUP executive discussions very closely. A climb-down by the UUP – already quite likely in the light of yesterday's opinion poll – would ruin Allister's hopes of coalescing a blocking minority of MLAs around his 'charismatic' leadership, and in one fell swoop creating a TUV presence in the Assembly. It is not an exaggeration to say that tomorrow's vote could either raise the TUV to a higher level, or consign it to continued irrelevance.


Paddy Canuck said...

Fascinating how it all evolves over time, isn't it? Not all that long ago, the only people I could have imagined trying to find common ground might have been the UUP and SDLP. Now the way forward's been driven by the extremes, SF and the DUP. Somehow it's all turned inside-out.

New times, New approach said...

Paddy - Reference your observations on the extremist parties now driving us forward. I would modify that slightly to the 'once' extremist parties. A Sinn Fein that accepts and encourages the PSNI, that focussed its attention at it's recent conference mostly on economic problems in the south of the island and a DUP who show willingness to compromise and to accept the inevitability that SF will soon be the senior partner in their political alliance can no longer really be termed extremists.
Remember when not only were 'SF/IRA' conducting a guerilla war, even more importantly they were representing the 'Antichrist' - it was all straight out of the 16th century!
Indeed the DUP have taken the ground from beneath the other unionists to such an extent that they have left them with no option but to whistle no surrender in a corner, and the SDLP are becoming an irrelevance even faster than the UUP (although that barely seems possible).
Yes, I know it's amazing and given this, who of us can possibly predict what will happen next. Interesting times.

Paddy Canuck said...

NTNA, it's an interesting analysis. It seems like somehow the extremists have, at the moment of their ascendancy, stolen the middle ground out from under the go-slow parties of the 70s and 80s. How they managed it would make a fascinating story, I'm sure. If they can keep the project together after the upcoming vote, things could get interesting in whole new ways... it will amount to quasi-independence for the North for the first time in nearly 40 years, while the unionists maintain their British safety net.

Horseman said...


This is not a primary school playground, so I will not allow you to shout.

I have translated your recent comment into 'civilised' text (i.e. not all CAPs and in bold), and here it is:


"Let’s hope that the UUP will stand tall against pressure and interference from piaps (PIAPS?*)!!!!!

So too, the people of British Ulster must see through the ruse of Jim “Gumully Lescale” Allister, who so readily capitulated in the province’s culture war!!!!"

[*Note: I don't know what piaps or PIAPS might be, so I don't know if the CAPS were warranted or not. When you post in future, do so in a civilised manner and I won't have to try and guess]

hoboroad said...

NIO commissioned poll

DUP 26%
SDLP 21%
TUV 1%
PUP 1%
UUP 14%
Alliance 8%
Green 4%
Conservative 2%
Workers Party 2%
RSF 1%

OFMDFM Commissioned Poll

DUP 30%
UUP 19%
SDLP 19%
SF 16%
Alliance 11%
TUV 2%
PUP 1%
Others 3%

Horseman said...


Those figures are about as useful as all other polls in NI. IE not at all. We'll have a real poll in a few months.

For those interested, the figures are in Mark Devenport's blog, here:

The relevant point to note is that "I don't know how many people in the NIO commissioned survey declined to answer, but I gather that in the OFMDFM poll 26% of those who were interviewed over the phone refused to say which party they backed, whilst 13% gave no affiliation."